Vayehi ha’am k’misonenim, ra b’aznei Hashem ... v’ha’asafsuf asher b’kirbo hisavu ta’avah ... vayomru mi ya’achilenu basar ... v’ata nafshenu yevaisha ein kol bilti el haman einenu ... And the people complained which was evil in the ears of Hashem ... and the rabble that was in their midst had a great desire and they said, who will feed us meat ... for now our bodies are dried up, there is nothing to look forward to but manna (Bamidbar 11:1-6)
The Torah does not specify what the complaint was of those who it categorizes as being k’misonenim, unlike the asafsuf - rabble - mentioned in pasuk 6, who complained that their diet in the desert was boring and consisted only of manna. There is a disagreement among the Sages as to who these people were; one school maintains that they were the erev rav, the stragglers who joined bnei yisrael at the time of the Exodus. The other school maintains that they were ketzinim - officers or people of noble birth. In either case, the simple peshat would seem to indicate that they did no more than raise a general complaint but found nothing specifically wrong. Nevertheless, they are severely punished by a Divine flame that burns them to death. Why is their punishment so severe and why are their complaints categorized as being ra b’aznei Hashem - evil in the ear of G-d? Is the sin of the asafsuf who denigrated the miracle of the manna not far more serious? Yet, these ingrates have their desires fulfilled - or in reality, overfilled - while those who simply kvetched in general are burned to death!
Moshe’s reaction to the complaints about the lack of meat also seems to be out of proportion. When he returned from Sinai and found the nation dancing around the golden calf, he was angry. However, he did not try to abdicate from his role as leader of the people, asking G-d how he could be expected to satisfy the needs of the people. On the contrary, he demonstrated his leadership by eradicating those guilty of sin while at the same time pleading with G-d not to destroy the nation as a whole. But in the case of the asafsuf, on the other hand, we find no defense pleas or remonstrations that Hashem not strike down the nation. On the contrary, Moshe himself complains to G-d, asking why he has been given this unmanageable task of leadership.
It would seem that the sin of the misonenim is similar to the sin of the golden calf and is therefore considered - unlike other sins - to be evil in G-d’s ear and especially grievous. Man’s transgressions are most often driven by an inability to conquer a desire. They do not necessarily connote a rebellion against G-d, but a weakness that man cannot overcome. As serious as such sin might be, it is something that can be fixed and therefore does not necessarily raise G-d’s ire.
But then there are sins that are a result of man’s complacency and his desire to live life without G-d. He lacks nothing, has no desires but nevertheless complains. In truth, he understands that G-d has provided for his needs and that is what he resents most, for he realizes that he is now obligated. He kvetches because he is uncomfortable with his dependency, wishing as it were that G-d would simply leave him alone. This is the worst kind of rebellion against G-d - not because of the complaining, but because man seeks to separate himself from the Divine.
Note that the pasuk uses an expression that we rarely find. The kvetching of the misonenim is described as ra b’aznei Hashem - G-d's ears - rather than the familiar einei Hashem - G-d’s eyes. The difference between the eyes and the ears is that the former interprets what actually exists - you cannot see something that is invisible. Thus, when dealing with the tangible world, the Torah refers to einei Hashem as, for example, when describing the Divine providence present in Eretz Yisrael. However, aznei Hashem refers to what can be heard or learned from what has been said. The people thought that they were complaining, but G-d heard much more. He understood that their kvetching was an insidious form of rebellion.
Moshe, on the other hand, had a human perspective and did not hear that which was between the lines of the complaining people. On the contrary, in his opinion, those who desired meat and were nostalgic about how good it was back in Egypt, were almost beyond the pale and he did not know how he could possibly relate to them. Thus, he complained to Hashem, speculating how he could be expected to cope with a group of people who had absolutely no appreciation for the miracles that G-d had done for them.